Chicago’s car-centric streets take the life of another child, Taha Khan, 5, in Sauganash

Taha Khan
Taha Khan

This summer has seen traffic violence kill far too many children on foot, scooter, and bicycle in the Chicago area. The victims have included Rafi Cardenas, 2; Lily Shambrook, 3; Ja’Lon James, 11; and Joshua Avina-Luna, 15; and Zain Jaber, 15. Sadly, on Wednesday night there was another name to add to that list, Taha Khan, a five-year-old boy who died after he was struck by an SUV driver who fled the scene, and then hit by a second motorist on Wednesday night on Cicero Avenue in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood. Contributing to the tragedy may have been the relatively high speed limit and wide layout of Cicero, which encourages deadly speeds.

According to the traffic crash report, witness Ronnetta Newson, who had been sitting in her car across the street from the crash site, told responding officers that at about 9:05 p.m., she saw Taha get struck on the east side of Cicero Avenue (4800 W.), just north of Rosemont Avenue (6300 N.)

This stretch of Cicero is a four-lane “stroad,” a highway through a dense urban area, with a 35 mph speed limit, higher than Chicago’s default 30 mph limit. There are businesses on the west side of this block, and residences on the east side.

Aerial view of the 6300 block of North Cicero Avenue. Image: Google Maps
Aerial view of the 6300 block of North Cicero Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Newson, who works as a Lyft driver, told police she saw the driver of a northbound red Jeep SUV strike Taha, who then rolled and fell into oncoming traffic. Newson told the Sun-Times she heard brakes screech, and then a “boom,” as the boy was hit by the Jeep driver, and then a northbound Volvo XC70 station wagon driver. The Jeep driver slowed down, but then fled north. The Volvo driver, a 50-year-old man who works as a Chicago police officer got out of his vehicle, took the boy’s pulse, and began performing CPR until a chicago Fire Department ambulance arrived.

Taha was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition with severe head trauma, police said. He was pronounced dead six hours later, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The crash report states that officers canvassed the area for security cameras and were able to locate cameras at three different nearby addresses on the west side of Cicero.

The 6300 block of North Cicero. The wide, four-lane layout encourages speeding. Image: Google Maps
The 6300 block of North Cicero. The wide, four-lane layout encourages speeding. Image: Google Maps

The Sun-Times reported Taha’s father Shahzad Khan told police he was talking to a neighbor in the yard of the family’s home when the boy walked out the front door of the house and into the street. “We are still trying to figure it out,” the grieving father said.

Some commenters on social media have argued that this death was simply the result of a young child wandering into the road. But this incident didn’t need to end in a fatality. Rather, driver behavior and street design may have contributed to sealing Taha’s fate.

Obviously, it was incredibly heartless of the Jeep driver to strike a small boy and then drive away without rendering aid. And we don’t know what speed the two involved motorists were going.

The four-lane layout of Cicero, along with the unusually high speed limit, may have made the difference between a little boy’s innocent mistake being punished by a death sentence, rather than a survivable injury, or just a close call. While there is a speed camera two blocks south of the crash site, Chicago’s 6 mph ticketing threshold for automated enforcement means that the drivers could have been going as fast as 40 mph, a speed at which struck pedestrians almost always die, without being ticketed by the camera.

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Illinois state rep Will Guzzardi noted that Cicero is an Illinois Department of Transportation-controlled road, which helps explain its four-lane layout, which prioritizes driver throughput over the wellbeing of pedestrians. The state has historically been loathe to make safety upgrades to streets that would add time to drivers’ commutes.

Screen Shot 2022-08-13 at 7.59.03 PM

Taha’s family is asking for assistance tracking down the hit-and-run driver. “We want help [from] every individual around this area — if they have any cameras outside their houses or businesses, please check,” the boy’s mother, Misbah Khan said on Thursday, Block Club Chicago reported. Three blocks south of the crash site there’s a POD camera and license plate scanner, which the family hopes will help identify the offender. They called on other motorists to drive at safe speeds, and watch out for children and other pedestrians in the road.

According to Block Club, Taha’s parents and family friends remembered him as a shy child who had recently become more more comfortable speaking and was learning to write. He was looking forward to starting kindergarten next month, as well as a Pikachu-themed birthday party on September 26.

Local alderperson Samantha Nugent (39th) called Taha’s death a “devastating loss” and said her office is trying to help the Kahn family in their time of need. Notably, last month Nugent voted to essentially legalize speeding by 9 mph near schools and parks during a City Council vote on whether to raise the speed camera ticketing threshold to 10 mph. Constituents have also told Streetsblog the alder has a moratorium on installing speed humps in the ward.

Illustration of the before and after of a four to three conversion road diet. Image: FHWA
Illustration of the before and after of a four to three conversion road diet. Image: FHWA

In addition to bringing the hit-and-run driver to justice, the ethical response to Taha’s death is taking action to help ensure that fewer families have to experience this kind of heartache. Implementing a “four-to-three conversion” road diet on Cicero – replacing the dangerous four-lane layout with one travel lane in each direction, a turn lane, and wider sidewalks and/or protected bike lanes – would be a good place to start. Lowering Chicago’s default speed limit to 25, as many peer cities like New York have done, would be a great next step.

Sign the Safe Streets for All petition demanding action from your alderperson, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and the Chicago Department of Transportation to address Chicago’s traffic fatality epidemic.

Fatality Tracker: 2022 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

Pedestrian: 21
Bicyclist: 6

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data.

2022 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

2022 Chicago bike fatality cases

 

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